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URBANA, Ill. — For new couples of any age, the first holiday together is always a big event. Relationships in general are filled with milestones and major tests which can let someone know a lot about their partner. So is meeting the parents for the first time going to make or break your relationship? A study finds family gatherings like these really do go a long way to deciding who ends up getting married.

Researchers at the University of Illinois say rituals act as important barometers for people in relationships. Events like holiday gatherings, celebrations, and even the weekly date night give people a deeper insight into their partner’s personality.

“Rituals have the power to bond individuals and give us a preview into family life and couple life. We found they help magnify normative relationship experiences,” says U of I graduate student Chris Maniotes in a university release.

Family rituals reveal what your partner is like around loved ones

As many daters know, some people try to be on their best behavior when they’re just getting to know someone. Researchers say rituals reveal how a prospective partner shares experiences with others. Events like the holidays and rites of passage (like a birthday party) may have elements of the daily routine in them, but they also have a lot of symbolic meaning that goes beyond normal interactions.

“Rituals provide a unique time to review one’s partner and relationship; you get to see a host of behaviors and interactions that might normally be obscured,” Maniotes explains. “Some of the ways rituals affected commitment to wed with these couples was by altering their view of their partner, giving them a new perspective.”

Wedding bells or waving goodbye?

The study interviewed 24 couples in the United States who were also part of a larger study looking at commitment and marriage. The participants had an average age of 23 and had been together for about two and a half years.

The results reveal a couple’s commitment to getting married could rise or fall depending on how their ritual experiences go. Researchers find these events can reinforce the bonds a couple have with each other and strengthen their intention to marry. On the other hand, rituals can also reveal the conflicts in a relationship which can lead to a breakup. In terms of the holidays, how a person deals with extended family gives their partner a window into how they navigate conflict.

“Rituals seem to really play a role in pausing and slowing down individuals, helping them take a better look at their relationship. They help them see, ‘this is who we are as a couple; this is who we are as a family,'” Maniotes says.

Study authors note rituals may not be the end-all-be-all definer of a couple’s relationship, but they add to a collage of experiences which paint a picture of where you’re headed as a couple.

The study appears in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

About Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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